Theatre

Sound of symbols

Theatre director Sukracharjya Rabha.   | Photo Credit: 27dfr sangeet

“Madiah Muchi” (“Madiah the Cobbler”) presented by Badungduppa, a theatre group based in a remote hilly village surrounded by dense forest in Assam, is remarkable for stylised movements, offstage sounds, music and text blending into an artistic whole, celebrating the victory of the oppressed over the oppressor. The play presented at Kamani auditorium was part of the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puruskar-2009 Samaroh.

It is directed by Sukracharjya Rabha, the recipient of Yuva Puraskar 2009 for “his notable talent in the field of theatre direction”. Facing formidable odds, Sukracharjya has shown rare commitment to theatre and organising skill to form Badungduppa among the Rabha village community, creatively assimilating tribal ritualistic forms into contemporary theatre. Having directed about a dozen plays in Rabha, Bodo and Nepali languages, director Sukracharjya has undertaken projects to reinvent, preserve and reinterpret rituals in the present context, for he feels that ritual theatre is the symbol of his people's cultural identity. The festival Under the Sal Tree organised by his group has become a significant event that portrays the multiple facets of rituals and their relevance to the evolution of a theatre with contemporary sensibility, exuding the distinct flavour of the region.

Written by eminent Kannada playwright and scholar H.S. Shiva Prakash and rendered into Rabha by the director himself, the play draws from Kannada folk legend and traces the story of the historic struggle of a lowly cobbler named Madiah who liberates his people and their gods from the captivity of the tyrant King Sravana. Shiva Prakash's plays in Hindi translation display clarity, lucidity and directness with an undercurrent of dramatic conflict. It appears that a stylised production of his plays better reveals the inherent struggle of the archetypal antagonistic conflict between the exploited and exploiter rather than a realistic style of presentation. The production under review aptly illustrates this fact.

Use of the body

What makes this production noteworthy is the imaginative use of the performer's body. The stage compositions marked by vitality, intensity and inner motivation create intense dramatic moments which are reinforced by offstage sound effects and stylised light design. The costumes reflect the characters of the dramatis personae — while the oppressed are in scanty dress, King Sravana, his minister and army chief are in costumes that have a royal air without being gaudy. The protagonist is in white, the harbinger of peace. The gods of the oppressed imprisoned by Sravana are appropriately dressed.

Since the narrative follows a pattern that keeps shifting the action to various locales, the director has conceived a device to free the decor from clatter and allow the action to flow in time and space. The action at times takes place simultaneously upstage and downstage.

Young director Sukracharjya has learnt his craft from veteran director H. Kanhailal and legendry actress H. Savitri of Manipur as well as by attending numerous theatre workshops conducted by leading theatre practitioners. The style of Kanhailal is in evidence in the directorial art of Sukracharjya in terms of actors' body language, providing them maximum space, making their art the main focus with other means of theatrical expression merging in the totality of the action.

The entire cast acted in a stylised style with intricacy, vitality and intensity, gripping the attention of the audience, transcending language barriers.

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 8:00:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/Sound-of-symbols/article16145860.ece

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